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  Opinion   Columnists  24 Dec 2023  Pavan K. Varma | Road to Bharat is riddled with pitfalls of Hindutva

Pavan K. Varma | Road to Bharat is riddled with pitfalls of Hindutva

The writer, an author, former diplomat and is in politics.
Published : Dec 24, 2023, 12:09 am IST
Updated : Dec 24, 2023, 12:09 am IST

Cultural colonisation takes decades after that to be erased, and India is a good example to illustrate this.

'Modi and India: 2024 and the Battle for Bharat' by Rahul Shivshankar and Siddhartha Talya.  (Image: Twitter)
 'Modi and India: 2024 and the Battle for Bharat' by Rahul Shivshankar and Siddhartha Talya. (Image: Twitter)

Rahul Shivshankar and Siddhartha Talya’s very readable and meticulously researched book, Modi and India: 2024 and the Battle for Bharat, was recently launched. I was a speaker at the event, along with a high-profile panel consisting of RSS leader Ram Madhav, vice-president of BJP Jay Panda, scientist and commentator Dr A.R. Ranganathan, and Smita Prakash of the ANI.

Right at the start, the authors ask the provocative question: “Will the (2024) election be a vote for the establishment of Hindu Rashtra?” The question is polemical, but hardly the thesis of the book. The real purpose of the authors is to outline the impelling reasons why India should decolonise its legacy, correct some aspects of its historical narrative which have been ignored, glossed over, or distorted, and rediscovering the great civilisation to which it belongs, transit to Bharat. 

‘Bharat’ here is used as a polarity to ‘India’, implying that if one is about cultural rootedness and authenticity, the other is about the dominance of a rootless anglicised elite and the mindless mimicry of the West. The India versus Bharat debate is, of course, a trifle overstated. Bharat is what we were as an ancient civilisation; India is an international brand, which is fast emerging as a world power. 

However, the essential point of the book is valid. Colonisation is not only about the physical subjugation of a people; it is about the colonisation of their minds. Political freedom has a finite day. Cultural colonisation takes decades after that to be erased, and India is a good example to illustrate this.

Following August 15, 1947, power and influence was largely inherited by ‘brown sahebs’, who were out of touch with their own culture, westernised in their behaviour, dismissive about India’s heritage, and fluent in English rather than their own language. I have discussed this in my book Becoming Indian: The Unfinished Revolution of Culture and Identity. Jawaharlal Nehru, although undoubtedly the maker of a democratic and secular India, saw progress largely in terms of a western paradigm, and was impatient to get rid of “the deadwood of our past”, which he mostly conflated with superstition, prejudice and sterile ritual. 

Of course, the old Indian civilisation was not unblemished in all respects, but to summarily dismiss its great achievements was akin to throwing the baby out with the bathwater. As a young nation, but one of the oldest civilisations of the world, our past has seen remarkable refinements in a whole range of subjects, philosophy, science, arts and culture, political theory, literature, grammar and many other areas, driven by moulik soch or the power of original thought. This is discussed in detail in my book The Great Hindu Civilisation. Rahul Shivshankar’s belief is that with the coming of Narendra Modi, the elections in 2024 would inaugurate the “formation of a dharma-inspired ‘second republic’”, and a definitive reclamation of Bharat.

This is a laudable goal, although the definition of dharma in Indian thought is a highly complex one. Whose dharma, what dharma, dharma as something absolute, or contextual? Yudhishthira in the Mahabharata himself says to Draupadi: “Dharma is sukshma (subtle). Who has defined it?” Be that as it may, some things are clearly against the interests of India: Bharat should not be about xenophobia; it must not be, as Mohan Bhagwat says, about the “‘boisterous rhetoric of supremacy”; it should respect all faiths, based on Hinduism’s own dictum Sarva Dharma Sambhava; it should be inclusive as Hinduism is, not reflexively exclusionist; it should be assimilative where necessary not dogmatically rejectionist; it should be progressive and not an excuse to perpetuate outdated orthodoxies; it should welcome critical thinking and not seek to homogenise Hinduism in accordance with a self-anointed group of Hindu thekedars who think only they know what Hinduism is about; it should believe in gender parity; and it should  be ready to embrace reform rather than mindlessly glorify everything of the past. 

It is true that there are some issues which need rectification. The book talks at length about the practice of minority appeasement in the past for vote bank politics, and it cannot be denied that there was indeed some of that — the overruling of the Supreme Court’s Shah Bano judgement is a glaring example — although such politically motivated appeasement did not do much to better the lives of Muslims themselves. There are also matters which cause a great deal of legitimate resentment in Hindus, be it the government control of Hindu temples, or the occasional soft-pedalling of Islamic extremism.   

But aggressive Hindu majoritarianism is not the answer to this. India is a multi-religious, plural and multi-cultural nation, and any attempt to steam roll this incontrovertible reality into an intolerant Hindu monolith is neither desirable nor feasible, and can become the cause of endemic instability which will not only sully our international image but also affect our economic ambitions. 

Objectively, Rahul Shivshankar admits that such possible distortions are a threat. He especially indicts organisations like Bajrang Dal — which are “attracting members in record numbers” and “threaten to unravel the BJP’s carefully cultivated strategy of growing into a big-tent party with a pan-India appeal, grounded in the best that Hindu ethos has to offer”. The truth is that organisations like the Bajrang Dal are fast becoming a law unto themselves. The irony is that its foot-soldiers know very little either of the profundity of Hinduism or of the greatness of Hindu civilisation. During the discussion at the launch, I jokingly said that if one of the Bajrang Dal activists is locked in a room and told that he would not be released until he writes one coherent page on Hinduism and Hindu civilisation, he would probably spend the rest of his life in that room. Ram Madhav agreed, adding that leave alone a page they would not even be able draft a comprehensible troll tweet!

The authors also condemn instances of “chilling hate speeches”, such as that in some Dharam Sansads. They admit that “the Sangh Parivar is finding it difficult to leash radicalised Hindus who have been exposed to the less reasonable ideas of the Hindu Right”. Both of them, therefore, rightly conclude that India’s mission to become a Vishwa Guru is there only “for the BJP to squander”.

Tags: colonisation, hindutva